Of all the words that could be used to describe the inimitable Mike Patton, “accessible” is hardly the first to come to mind. But any fanboy worth his weight in Mr. Bungle bootlegs will testify that beneath the weirdness for weird’s sake, the animalistic grunts, and the lyrics about bedding down with Betty Crocker, there is a man vocally equipped to make the finest pop record you’ve never heard. To his devotees, the fact that Patton deigns to enter that world in mere asides—a soaring hook here, a sweeping ballad there—only makes following him through the slough of a thousand strange projects more enticing.
Mondo Cane may actually be that long-awaited payoff. A one-off that finds Patton remaking Italo-pop standards backed by a 40-piece orchestra, the record is flagrantly enjoyable from first gasp to final croon. On “Il Cielo In Una Stanza,” our host makes like a ’50s pop idol swooning over lilting strings. For “Scalinatella,” a song popularized by Johnny Mathis, it’s just Patton and classical guitar—no double-kick barrage or ill-advised turntable tricks. Better yet, Mondo Cane frequently hearkens back to Mr. Bungle’s crossover moment, the pop-steeped masterwork California. In Patton’s hands, the Gypsy tune “Che Notte!” immediately recalls “Ars Moriendi,” while Ennio Morricone’s “Deep Down” flamboyantly vamps à la “Sweet Charity.” His choice in covers is impeccable—the height of which is The Blackmen’s nearly proto-punk “Urlo Negro,” which offers a new window into the obfuscated Patton oeuvre. Mondo Cane comes with another considerable advantage as well: no original lyrics. That, even the diehards will admit, is probably a good thing.